Brett Gardner: AL Player of the Week

Brett Gardner was named AL Player of the Week because he average .520, going 13-for 25, with 5 doubles, a home run, and 6 RBIs in a single week. I think where he really found his stride was during the Cleveland games earlier in the week, where his offense started complementing his already stellar defense and really earned him something worthy of praise. But he’s also hit safely at least once in every game last week. As of this posting, he currently has a .284 average, the highest of the whole active roster. And he’s easily stolen 10 bases.

Apparently, for the award, Gardner beat out fellow teammates CC Sabathia who threw a complete game last Wednesday against Cleveland and Mariano Rivera who earned 4 saves (of his 2013 total 23) this week. Other contenders this week were Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Red Sox), David Ortiz (Red Sox), and Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics), who all had great offensive efforts for their respective teams.

It’s rather fun to see a player succeed, one who usually gets a bit overlooked in the New York lights, one who isn’t really known for his great offense, and one who hasn’t really quite carved that name for himself in the Yankee history books just yet. It’s easy to get caught up in the greats and the names and the legends at Yankee Stadium because they really do deserve the accolades and praise. Each one worked hard to get just the chance to do something like they are known for, and each one put in their dues to become something the papers and the fans and the front office talks about, raves about, even publicly celebrates.

Sure when I think of the Yankees, I think of the legends that have played in pinstripes, or those that current are legends in pinstripes (#42 anyone?). But I also think of those who diligently put in the effort everyday, on the field, off the field, during practice, in the clubhouse, out in the city, across the country as a Yankee representative. They make it possible for Rivera to come into 24 games (so far this season) and work hard for that save. Their running and sliding catches, their short singles and doubles, their quick jumps to catch a fly ball or tag a runner out are cheered on by thousands of fans everyday. And they are often a name for a short season, but such a valuable part of what makes a team, our team, a great team.

And because they’re the Yankees, they’re going to be clean-cut in appearance and in integrity. And if anyone has displayed all of those qualities for this last week, let alone for the whole season already, it’s Brett Gardner. So we thank you, #11, for being you — an integral, very necessary part of this storied franchise.

Go Yankees!

Game 63: NYY vs. SEA — A loss for the King, a win for the Empire

The Mariners may have a “King”, but the Yankees are the “Evil Empire” (yes, they trademarked that recently). And as always, the King cannot overtake the Empire, and the Seattle King couldn’t lead his team to the win. And thus, the Yankees also took the series in Seattle 3-of-4.

The game began slow for the Mariner’s ace Felix Hernandez (dubbed “King Felix” in Seattle) throwing 43 pitches threw 2 innings, 22 in the 1st inning loading the bases but stopping the Yankees from scoring and 21 in the 2nd allowing an RBI single from Brett Gardner scored Jayson Nix to make it 1-0 Yankees. But Hernandez kept the Yankees from scoring again through his 7 total innings, giving up 5 of the Yankees 7 hits.

On the other side of the field starting pitcher David Phelps also kept the Mariners away from doing much damage, only allowing Seattle batters one run, also on an RBI single in the 2nd inning. Phelps did a great job and kept them scoreless for the rest of his 6 innings, replaced by Logan, David Robertson, and Rivera, helping Phelps keep Seattle with a line of zeros across the scoreboard.

Neither of tonight’s starting pitchers would earn a win-loss statistics on their record because of a 9th inning last-ditch effort by the Yankees. (Robertson would notch the win for today’s game, and Rivera his 23rd save of 2013.) A lead-off walk to Ichiro Suzuki (still loved in Seattle after 11 seasons there), Nix’s sacrifice bunt advanced Ichiro to scoring position where he did just that on Chris Stewart’s single on a rather off-target throw to home from the outfield. This made the final score 2-1 Yankees.

Actually, it was rather fun to watch this game, especially toward the end. I love nail-biter games, complete with great nail-biting plays, like Mark Teixeira’s rather spectacular double play in the 9th inning. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, and really freaks out the other people in Starbucks who don’t know you’re watching a baseball game on your computer (with headphones) so find your sudden outburst of joy really rude and intrusive to their incessant coffee-sipping and computer-typing. Not that most of the people nearby were Yankees fans (or baseball fans, for that matter) and would have understood my excitement. But I think that’s what makes enjoying a game, no matter where you are, kind of fun — you have the responsibility as fans to celebrate when your team does something wonderful and feel bummed when they don’t succeed. Sorry, people at Starbucks, but a fan is a fan no matter where they are.

Go Yankees!

Game 62: NYY vs. SEA — It’s a Pettitte kind of day

Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte has two things to be happy about this Saturday. The first (and clearly the lesser one) is today’s win over the Seattle Mariners. In what quickly became a really excellent outing, Pettitte threw only 85 pitches over 7.1 innings, allowing the Mariners only 3 hits and a run (a sacrifice fly in the 4th inning), striking out 6 batters. Robertson finished the 8th inning for Pettitte, and Rivera threw his 17 pitches to earn his 22nd save of the season.

Not that the Yankee offense was that stellar, but it was enough of a push to give Pettitte his 5th win of the season. In the first inning, Mark Teixeira (DH-ing today) doubled on two outs and scored the first run on Robinson Cano’s single. Jayson Nix came through in the 5th inning to knock in an RBI single and then did it again in the 7th to put the final score at 3-1 Yankees. Nix is on his way to making his own mark and name with the Yankees. Actually, the Yankees in total notched 10 hits off the Mariners’ pitching staff today, with Brett Gardner leading the pack, going 3-for-5 today.

In other Pettitte news, for the 37th round of the draft, the Yankees selected Josh Pettitte, Andy’s oldest son. (Like I inferred above, this would be the prouder moment for Andy today.) But like many of the recent high school graduates selected in the draft, Josh opted to go to college instead (Baylor, in his home state of Texas) and wait for another MLB call another year.

I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen from a Pettitte in pinstripes, but perhaps he wanted to be the only Pettitte on the team, giving dad some time to retire and son some time to develop and hone his skills in college ball. It also gives his family time to focus on one pro-ball player at a time.

Either way, I’m certainly glad to see the legacy of the Core Four continue. Mariano Rivera’s son, Mariano Rivera Jr., is now pitching for Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. Jorge Posada’s son, Jorge Luis Posada, will be 14 this year, so we have a some time to see how he develops. And the final member of the Core Four has yet to begin his genetic line, so we have a whole lot more time to see what will become of  the Jeter family legacy. Any way you look at it, all four are legacies in their own right, and I think it’s very cool that the next generation continues to carry on, much like fathers and sons have done for millennia. It’s only right in a family oriented sport where one generation passes on team loyalties and memories of bleacher times with the next generation, that the Yankees continue their legacy and put a new twist on the old pinstripes, digging in their own names and legacies and legends yet to be made and yet to be determined.

Go Yankees!

Game 61: NYY vs. SEA — Losing in the 4th inning

Taking a page from the Yankees playbook of late, the Seattle Mariners used a single inning to rack up their runs and spent the rest of the game defending that lead. Outside of the 4th inning, Hiroki Kuroda threw 110 pitches into the 7th inning, allowing 8 hits, all 4 of Seattle’s runs, walking 3, and striking out 6 batters. Kuroda wasn’t his usual spot-on self, but then he wasn’t terrible either. In that 4th inning, he got 2 back-to-back outs before allowing a ground-rule double and 2 walks to load the bases; a right field single knocked in 2 of the runners; a sloppy single loaded the bases again; a single to left field knocked in 2 more runners, before the last out was finally made. And very quickly, the Mariners had 4 runs.

The Yankees scored first and only one run in the 1st inning. Brett Gardner doubled right off the bat, and later in the inning, Travis Hafner hit a sacrifice ground out to score Gardner. So after the 4th inning, the score stayed 4-1 Seattle for the next 5 innings. Rather uneventful for a loss, and honestly, it wouldn’t have been that exciting of a win, had I been rooting for the Mariners.

In draft news, the Yankees have selected the following players for the first 10 rounds: Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Ian Clarkin, Gosuke Katoh, Michael O’Neill (nephew of former Yankee Paul O’Neill), Tyler Wade, David Palladino, John Murphy, Nick Rumbelow, Brandon Thomas, Conner Kendrick, and Tyler Webb. There is one more day of draft picks for the next 30 rounds, which means the Yankees get 30 more selections. Some of these picks have been selected in previous drafts to other teams, but opted to go to college instead. The Yankees have seen what playing college ball has done to improve its stars, as many of its players played in college before being drafted by MLB — Granderson, Teixeira, Robertson, Gardner, and former Yankee Swisher were all picked up during or right out of college.

And Ichiro Suzuki is climbing the hits charts. On the MLB official stats, he has 2,656 hits, having just passed Red Sox power hitter Ted Williams on the all-time hit list. But if you factor in his hits from his time professionally in Japan (1,278), he has 3,934 total hits in his professional career, or 66 hits from 4,000. This should easily be accomplished before the end of the season, as there are 101 games left. No other active player in all of MLB has that many hits total, and only Ichiro’s teammates Alex Rodriguez (2,901) and Derek Jeter (3,304) have more official MLB hits than him.

What a history and standard of excellent playing the draft picks now get to be a part of. I imagine it would be an honor to be selected by any team in any round of the draft, but (short of family loyalty) I cannot imagine a better team to be selected by than the Yankees — to be asked to join that standard of excellence, that legacy and history of greatness, the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Maris, Berra, and more. Again, congratulations to all those selected.

Go Yankees!

Game 60: NYY vs. SEA — 3rd inning impact

It seems that lately the Yankees are keen on picking a single inning to make a huge impact on the scoreboard and spend the other innings defending that impact. Tonight was no exception, and tonight they found an opportunity in the 3rd inning against the Seattle Mariners.

The Yankees went through 11 batters in the 3rd inning. Two singles set up Robinson Cano to hit his 15th home run of the season, and put the Yankees quickly up 3-0. Mark Teixeira grabbed his chance to jump in on the action with a long solo home run to right-center field. A single, a double, and 2 RBI singles (by Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki) easily made it 6-0 by the end of the inning.

Starting pitcher Phil Hughes was in great form tonight, throwing 111 pitches over 7 innings, walking 2 and striking out 7 Mariners. One of those walks ended up scoring in the 8th inning on an RBI double. But that was the only score the Yankees would allow from the Mariners tonight, only allowing 4 hits all night. The Yankees relievers got themselves into some jams but were able nimbly work their way out of them and keep the Mariners at bay (just noticed the pun, sorry), with the help of the Yankees defense like a long, quick catch by (who else anymore) Jayson Nix.

The Yankees began their 4 game series in Seattle tonight to kick off their West Coast tour and will head down to Oakland and Los Angeles (Angels) next week. The hardest part about West Coast games for most of the Yankees fans is that they’re usually played in the evening (or the 7:00 pm game time), which is 10:00 pm for the East Coast. So while the West Coast crowd is finishing their 10:30 pm noshes at sports bars, the rest of the country is already considering it the “middle of the night”. And for those of us who write about it, it just gets to maneuver our schedules around. And honestly, it kind of reminds me of staying up late in college writing that 10 page paper I put off until the night before it was due. Fortunately, I don’t have an 8:00 am class tomorrow (whoever does the scheduling for morning college classes is a sadist, but that’s for a different time).

Also, in MLB news, the “other news” of the week is being gladly trumped by the MLB Draft. Tonight, the Yankees picked up three players due to their regular draft pick (#26) and two first round draft picks (#32 & #33) they acquired by losing Nick Swisher (to the Indians) and Rafael Soriano (to the Nationals). #26 went to 3rd baseman Eric Jagielo of Notre Dame; #32 picked outfielder and power hitter out of Fresno State Aaron Judge; and #33 is Ian Clark, a left-handed pitcher from San Diego. Welcome to the Yankees, gentlemen. You may not know it yet, but you’ve become a part of the most storied franchises in history. And by being chosen in the 1st round of the draft by the Yankees will forever be part of your history in MLB and a part of the Yankees.

Go Yankees!

Game 59: CLE vs. NYY — A CC kind of sweep

Starting pitcher (and former Indian) CC Sabathia threw all 116 pitches needed for the Yankees to win and sweep the Cleveland Indians today. He started really strong, perhaps his strongest all season so far, getting 14 straight batters out (until a single in the 5th inning broke that streak). In the next inning, he faltered a bit, allowing 3 straight singles (and one run) and a sacrifice groundout to score the 2nd run for the Indians before Sabathia closed out the inning. A 2-out 2-run homer by an Indians batter in the 7th inning was probably his biggest flaw in today’s otherwise stellar performance, which put the Indians solidly on the board with 4 runs. But it wasn’t enough to do much of anything to counteract the early Yankee attack.

A fielding error in the 1st inning allowed Robinson Cano to slide into 2nd safely — though I think we can all agree that splits are best used by dancers, not baseball players. The other former Indian on the team, Travis Hafner, then solidly planted a long ball into the 2nd deck in right field for a quick 2-0 lead in the 1st inning. In the 2nd inning, Overbay singles, Nix doubles, Chris Stewart singles and scores Overbay,  and it was Brett Gardner today that took his turn to hit a 3-run homer into right field. (Yes, Brett Gardner; I was shocked too.) And the Yankees were quickly up 6-0 in the 2nd inning.

Even when Cleveland attacked late in the game, they still fell short of the 6-4 final score, and much of that was due to Sabathia. He struck out 9 batters, walked only 1, allowed 7 hits, and those 4 pesky runs in the 6th and 7th innings. Cleveland went through 5 pitchers in an attempt to keep the Yankees at bay, which they did after the first two innings and got out of several loaded bases scenarios. But to finish what you start is always rather refreshing for a pitcher, and he was able to save the bullpen from a day’s work for another day facing another team, which is good because they Yankees are making a cross-country flight tonight to play down the West Coast.

And I do want to continue to acknowledge Jayson Nix’s contribution to the team, like with a 6-6-3 double play in the 7th inning. He is a great example of what is happening on the team as a whole. It’s the little things like that play and just the willingness to be wherever you’re asked to play that continue to drive this team forward. He is regularly filling in at shortstop with the furthered absence of  both Jeter and Nunez (who is now dealing with a recent set-back in his recovery), and honestly, Nix is really exceeding all expectations of one of the most demanding positions on the field. Again it’s guys like Nix that are making this team something special, something feared almost, in the league when technically they were “supposed to be” where the Blue Jays are right now — below .500 for the average (Toronto’s is currently .414) and 11.5 games behind 1st place Boston (well, everyone thought 1st place would be the Blue Jays, but that’s another story). But we’re not, and we have to give credit to the “never say die” guys like Jayson Nix.

Go Yankees!

Game 58: CLE vs. NYY — A win is still the story of the day

Mark Teixeira continues his show of brute force tonight with yet another big contribution, something that gave starter David Phelps what is arguably his best outing this season and tonight’s win against Cleveland. Phelps kept the Indians scoreless through all 6 of his innings, allowing only 1 hit, walking 4, but striking out 7 batters in his 102 pitches. Joba Chamberlain came in to relieve him, but only managed 2 outs and allowing an admittedly really nice 3-run home run, the only runs they would score tonight. Logan finished the inning, Robertson came in for the 8th, and Rivera closed out the game for his 21st save of 2013. The best pitcher-batter combination was easily Robertson vs. Swisher, due to their long and close friendship off the field; Robertson got Swisher to ground into a double play, however, something that will no doubt get rubbed in at their next combined family gathering.

Behind Phelps, Girardi continued playing with his roster: Overbay continued his new stint as an outfielder (sans salute tonight); Cano took a half-day and focused on being a DH, as Adams played 2nd in his stead until he was replaced by Nix who moved over from short when Brignac came in later; and Gardner also entered the game later at center which shifted Ichiro to right to take over for Overbay. And if you’re half as confused as I was by the 7th inning, consider yourself fully indoctrinated into the “Girardi’s Binder” club. (Still lost? Google can be your best friend.)

Defensively, it was Jayson Nix who was at the key spot around 2nd base in two interesting plays tonight. First, in the 4th inning, Phelps gets a strike out for the first out, and Stewart throws the ball to a waiting Nix to get the runner trying to steal 2nd base for the first double play of the evening. Then, in the 8th inning, Nix caught the line drive off Swisher in the 8th and flipped the ball to Brignac to tag 2nd and get the out off the doubled-off runner for an easy double play (the one I mentioned above).

Now, offensively, the Yankees got 8 hits off Cleveland pitchers, 7 alone from their starter. They did most of their damage in the 4th inning, which started off with a Overbay double. Stewart singled on the next hit, pushing Overbay to 3rd, but in efforts to turning it into a double, Stewart was thrown out at 2nd base. (Yes, it was as messy as that sounded.) Ichiro’s single scored Overbay easily. Nix’s single got Ichiro over to 3rd base. Mark Teixeira, however, saw this at bat as his opportunity to step up again and hit a long ball out just inside the foul pole in the left field seats for a 3-run home run. In a single inning, the Yankees planted their dominance on the scoreboard in what would end up a 4-3 win for the Yankees.

And the shame of tonight’s win is that most of the news has been on the breaking story of the latest development in the South Florida PED scandal, which originally broke in January, naming specific MLB players on documents retrieved by reporters and written up in an expose. Tonight, MLB announced they would now be seeking suspensions for a good portion of those named in the document.

Now, I won’t dabble in speculation or make grandiose claims based on rumors or assumptions. But I don’t like the idea of sweeping punishments without regard to actual proven guilt. If players are guilty of using PEDs, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent that MLB can dole out. But I believe in a justice system that is based on “innocent until proven guilty”, not one based on “guilty by assumption”. The last time MLB ruled on sweeping punishments was nearly a century ago with the “Black Sox” scandal of 1920, which was further marred by the botched investigation and the punishment of clearly innocent men who are still legally banned from baseball. I really don’t want to see that happen again.

It’s almost easier to write about the horrors of this world in a fictional sense because it never affects real people. I think sometimes people forget that when they pursue stories of a less than honorable nature, those connections affect actual people and their lives. I just hope that cooler heads prevail and that (to paraphrase the old saying) the truth will set the innocent free, no matter who they are.

Go Yankees!